Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Fashion In Film: Baby Face (1933)

Director: Alfred E. Green
Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent
Costume Design: Orry-Kelly

Baby Face - a story of rags to riches, with a lot of sin mixed in. Available in an uncensored and censored version, it was extremely racy for it's day as Barbara Stanwyck's character, Lily Powers, literally sleeps her way to the top of a Manhattan finance company, ending up living in the penthouse.

Again, the clothes in a movie that inspires me turns out to have been designed by designer Orry-Kelly.* As it turns out, Orry-Kelly designed most of the outfits in Barbara Stanwyck and Bette Davis' film wardrobes that I have loved. Movies like Now, Voyager, The Little Foxes, and Gambling Lady. He also designed the costumes for Auntie Mame, Some Like it Hot, Irma La Douce and one of my favorites, An American in Paris.** So in this post we'll look at what he created for a girl from the Erie, Pennsylvania slums "working" her way to the top.

Please note how great these screen captures are. I was given permission to borrow them from Kate at Small Earth Vintage, do yourself a favor and check out her great vintage shop here.

Chic in the Big City

Lily's first job in the Big City and she wears a cute polka-dot bias dress with flutter sleeves, topped with an attached white cape-collar, adorned with large metallic buttons and larger than average buttonholes. Note that this is pre-makeover.

Movin' on up!

This is worn as she makes her move for advancement, standing out from the other ladies by adding flare to her wardrobe with an infusion of (organdy?) ruffles not only at the decolletage but also at the wrists, all topped with a new permanent wave in her hair. See the plainer version of the white collar and cuffs dress in the background?

My fave look!

Now in the midst of having an affair with the bank president's future son-in-law, she ups the stakes by wearing a classic background dress jazzed up with a large quilted (yes, quilted!) scarf and matching cuffs. This one says clean, classy and professional, so what is her character doing wearing it? I can't help but read that monogram as a giant red letter "A".

Bubbles and sparkly things bought by her Sugar Daddy

Soon after, she dumps the son-in-law and moves up to the bank's much older president. Lily no longer needs to work and is set up in a doorman apartment and given an obviously generous clothing budget. Check out those jewels!

Lady of Leisure

She is now wearing full ensembles with accessories such as hats, gloves and fur capes and I suspect she now spends her days shopping.

In time, great scandal happens threatening the company and she is shipped to the company's Paris branch. (Yeah, I wish that was how it works!) Lily is soon pursued by the brand new company president (George Brent), a much younger and hunkier model. Once married to him, she is quickly spoiled rotten (real rotten!) in the company's penthouse apartment.

The Big Time!

I guess this is her "just hanging out at home" outfit. Black satin bias gown with metallic encrusted, draped open-shoulder sleeves, a slight train and a jeweled brooch at neck.

She's got plenty of nothing...

Fitted satin (charmeuse?) gown with voluminous dolman sleeves, draped buttoned back collar and scandalous open back.

Another view of the pure Glamour

Images: courtesy of Small Earth Vintage

* If anyone knows of a coffee table book on Orry-Kelly, please let me know. I can't believe with his list of credits that no one has documented his genius yet.

** Two of the movies mentioned above will be the future subjects of new Inspire Me segments, guess which ones?


Antoinette said...

Open-back! At home I'd totally be comfortable wearing a gown like that, and it gives that dash of personal ooh-la-la that a t-shirt and knit shorts don't offer. ;)

Sassy Lassies Vintage Life said...

I love watching these movies just so I can see the glamorous clothing. Will add it to my netflix que. thanks for telling about it.

Sassy Lassies Vintage Life said...

And I would do ANYTHING to see what these lovelies looked like in color.

scb said...

This was a fascinating post! I hope you're going to post about the designs in Now, Voyager -- love 'em. And now I have to watch Baby Face!

Anonymous said...

Your fave is mine, too. Great post.

lsaspacey said...

Scb, check out the tag for Orry-Kelly, I wrote about Now, Voyager first.

The Slapdash Sewist said...

Love these posts! And you've got me intrigued about the movie's storyline as well. Sound very complicated.

Karen/Small Earth Vintage said...

Fantastic--thank you for the new look at Baby Face! The scarlet letter A on that scarf--yes! You have me itching to watch it again. It's really a fantastic film.

lsaspacey said...

Karen, check back for the next Baby Face-related post. I found vintage patterns that were probably used to recreate some of the costumes or at least the essence of the outfits.

thefabledneedle (jen) said...

i just love those imaginative styles from the '30s! somehow those ladies were able to pull them off.

Anonymous said...

Baby Face is one of my favourite films, although not quite for the fashion but more for the story. Your favourite look is also my favourite! The exaggerated scarf bow and cuffs sure are classy. I didn't notice how her organdy ruffles were a variation of the white collar and cuffs "uniform" (I suppose it was some sort of office dress code uniform?). And that scandalous open-back outfit, worn in that terrible scene... when the president's future son-in-law caught her and the president together, leading to the shooting and suicide and sure enough, scandal.